Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Garden Design: Creating a Theme

My backyard

My front yard

One of the flower beds at Thanksgiving Piont, Lehi, Utah.  The hedge in the background creates the walls of this garden room.

I love the river rock.  This is at Thanksgiving Point Gardens

While the majority of my posts focus on food production,  I like my gardens to be inviting and beautiful. I like each area to have a place  where people can sit, ponder, and enjoy nature. I want people to come visit and want to stay and hopefully discover new things while here.  I enjoy the creating or designing.  Everything is always a work in progress and I enjoy the journey.

Flower beds and landscape are not only aesthetically pleasing but functional.  Flowers and shrubs provide home and food for native pollinators, predatory insects, birds, lizards, and toads.  These inhabitants will benefit and assist in controlling disease and pest problems in the gardens and orchard.  Basically you can't lose by landscaping and it can all be done organically.

My shade garden.  My boys bring home the rusty antiques.

The garden is a canvas that can express your personality and passions as well and be functional and provide food.  The more I garden more reverence I have for God's creations, and the more humble and grateful I am for the beauty around me. 

Part of  garden trail in my backyard.  A gooseberry is in the back of the bed so landscape can provide food.

It is sad that to some gardening is reduced to a task or chore when it can be an inspiring, enjoyable passion. You may be thinking, "I would enjoy it but  ......"   Think of it as a partnership between you and Mother Nature.  Sometimes she has things her way and occasionally things go the way you planned.

 "It is utterly forbidden to be half-hearted about gardening. You have got to love your garden whether you like it or not." ~W.C. Sellar & R.J. Yeatman, Garden Rubbish, 1936

With winter comes all the possibilities, visions, and dreams of a new season.  Whether you are planning a new area or working on improving an existing garden,  it all starts with a plan.  And that plan should start with a theme to inspire the design.

The river bank at Thanksgiving Point with yarrow and Black eyed Susan's.

Steps To Design
  • Pick a Theme
  • Brainstorm and research
  • Carry out the project

One of my garden beds in early spring.  A snowball bush is blowing with irises.  This is the early spring blooms.

Pick a Theme:

There are lots of tradition gardens:
cottage, cut flowers, vegetable, herb, a butterfly garden, rose garden, formal, evergreen, rock gardens, shade gardens.

Why not incorporate a part of yourself.  Think of hobbies, favorite books, favorite people, time periods, favorite foods,  or holiday etc. Use those ideas to choose color, paving, shape, and furniture.  Below are a few quick ideas that came to mind.  Please share any ideas you have for garden themes.

Coleus and sweet potato vine are in the old wash tub with Bishop's weed as a ground cover.

Hobbies:  Quilting, dairy goat, antiques, birdhouses, bicycles, cowboy, grand kids,  chickens, watercolor, hunting, cooking

Favorite Books:  Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit ,  Secret Garden, Pooh's Hundred Acre Woods,  Peter Rabbit and McGregor's garden,  Peter Pan's Neverland,  Pride and Prejudice.....

People:  Monet's Garden, Jefferson's Monticello,Picasso garden, VanGogh's Sunflower Garden or tulip garden

A perfect Monet's garden with water lilies.  This is at Thanksgiving Point.

Time Period, Era, or Holiday:  Patriotic, Old West, Victorian, Easter, Old English, 

Places:  Garden plants from a particular area or country alpine, meadow, desert, Japanese or Dutch garden

Animals:  Duck, goats, cows, pigs. beehives and bees, chickens

An old chicken feeder makes a great planter. In the background is an antique laundry stove.

Foods:  Pink Lemonade (colors) , pizza garden

Collections:  Old spoons, watering cans, license plates, vintage garden tools, bucket list

Colors:  Primary Colors, secondary colors, warm or cool colors, favorite sports team colors, analogous colors.

Beautiful use of contrasting colors and mass plantings.  This is at an LDS Temple..

The idea of a theme is to inspire color combos, shapes, paving, furniture, garden art, and planting choices.  No one but you my know the inspiration for your garden or it can be very obviously worked into the design.


Once you have a theme, write down any and all ideas that come to mind.  Do some research, search pinterest,  who knows what will inspire you. Hopefully some of you ideas inspire actually design elements.

Elements of Design

Structure and Shape:  Define the size of the area and the shape.  Relate it to your theme.  Should it be formal or informal, use defined shapes or be free flowing? Consider the contour of the land, adding different levels, and consider the purpose of the garden.
This is part of my backyard I like meandering shapes.
This is looking down at the same area.  There is a pole fence and terraced garden behind.

Hardscape:  This includes all the non-living aspects of your garden.  Patios, furniture, arbors, fences, walls, trellises, paving, and containers.

If you think of the garden area as a room.  Decide what to do with the floor then consider the walls

The floor determines the shape. Determine the planting areas and non planting areas, paving, and ground covers. 

Walls can be fences, part of an existing structure, trellises, planters, containers, rocks, boulders, or hedges

The ceiling can be a tree canopy, lanterns, pergola, or open to the sky

An old shed is perfect adjacent to a garden.  This is the Hill's garden in Rexburg Idaho.  They are wonderful hobby gardeners.
This is part of the terraced garden.

This was at a wedding facility.  Beautiful.


Be creative, re-purpose, repaint, incorporate color and elements of your theme into the furniture. It's amazing what a can of spray paint can do. Create your own unique chair idea.  Include a table, crate, trunk, barrel, milk can turned into a table, wheelbarrow etc.
Raymond Hill's garden in Rexburg Idaho.

The terraced garden with a bridge over a rock river in by backyard.

Examples of garden furniture. This area is in my raised bed vegetable garden.  It is unfinished but so many ideas are forming just waiting for spring.

Ornamentation:  Choose a couple of elements to make it unique.  This can be lighting, garden art, fountains, creative planters, signs, wind chimes, plant markers.

A perfect statue for this river bank at Thanksgiving Point.
A garden girl helping in my garden.
I love this wagon and choice of plants.  The Hill's garden in Rexburg Idaho.
An old ladder is a great garden ornament.
A wine barrel we turned into a rain barrel.

Plant Materials:  

Be sure to use appropriate plants for your zone, soil, also consider the amount of sunlight, size of the plants and watering needs.  Consider the care and time you have and how to minimize weeds.  Do you want perennials, annuals, or a mix? 
Hosta and Sugar Berry Heucheras or Coral Bells part of my shade garden.

Catmint, lemon balm, and May Night Salvia all in the middle of my raised bed vegetable garden

Hostas, Coral Bells, Impatients in my shade garden

Choose colors:  coordinate color with your theme.  consider bloom time and if you want year round color, consider flower shape and variations in height

Include some neutral which is green plants in the gardening world.  They define and draw attention to the color aspects of your garden.  

Lots of color in this Thanksgiving Point flower bed

A bed of dahlias at Thanksgiving Point.

Other things to consider:

  • Mass plantings are more impressive than single plantings
  • Group plants in odd numbers
  • Consider the height and incorporate plants of different heights: tall, medium, border, and ground covers
  • Create a pattern or mix it up for a natural look
Pansies and Violas

I really like the yellow tulips in this river of lavender and violet.

Form: The shape of the plant will be more constant than the show of color so consider that when choosing plan. Flowers fade so the shape of the plant, leaves, bark color are all important. 

Evergreens can added form to your garden

Incorporate edibles:  Chard, Kale, rhubarb, nanking cherry, jostaberries, ornamental peppers, strawberries, can all be used in landscape
This can be pruned to be a small tree or a shrub and the cherries make delicious jelly.

Celery hiding among marigolds

Elderberry is a gorgeous shrub with berries great for jelly and medicinal purposes.  The flowers are beautiful.

I think chard adds interest to a landscape.
The color of Blood Red Beets adds interest to landscape

Pink Champagne currants are part of my landscape.  I love the pink translucent berries

Use an online data base to help you find plants for your zone

Here are some quick ideas I came up with for themes:

Chuckwagon:  wagon wheels, cast iron frying pans, wood boxes,  old dutch ovens.  Evergreens, red, yellow, white flowers, Fire Dance Kniphofia, Russian sage, succulents, bandanna chair covers, rocking chairs, rusted barbed wire, old boots, wagon bench, mason jar lights

Here's some flower and color choice that are inspired by this theme:

A long bloomer Gailardias of Blanket flower

Also a long bloom Rudbeckia

Gerber daisy

Shasta daisy



Gerber daisy at home in an old kettle

Add caption


Blanket flower

Dairy Goat:  milk jugs, milking pail, glass antique milk jars, cream separator the top makes a great planter, white, silver leafed plants like lambs ear, stools, cow bells for chimes.....

Dusty Millers with Verbena and petunias at Thanksgiving Point

Delphiliums one of my favorites

Looks just like spilled milk

Lamb's ear or Nubian goats ear.

Peonies in pale pink

Angelica tulip

Add caption

  Bedtime Garden:  Bed Spring trellis, head boards for fence, flowers that close up at night, aromatic flowers like stalk, Hyacinth, and sweet peas.


Add caption

Catananche or Cupid's Dart the flowers close up at night



Can't have a bedtime garden without lavender



Add caption

Grape Hyicinth



Garden phlox


Children's Garden:  Little red wagon,  tonka trunks,  Trellis tepee,  gourds growing on a trellis, pumpkins, hopscotch pavers, sand box,  lots of edibles that kids can pick like peas, strawberries, a cornfield to get lost in.
Cinderella pumpkins

Amaranth grows tall and comes in many colors

Gourds growing on a trellis or archway

Kohlrabi looks like alien spaceships on the dirt


Sunflowers of all kinds

Elderberries older canes are hollow and can be made into flutes

Frozen Garden:  I picture this as garden with bold color like blue, deep purple, evergreens, magenta,  large round rocks that could possible turn into trolls, mosses, antique sleds, and of course carrots for Sven and Olfa's nose.  

Snowball bush

Butterfly bush


Sweet William


Weigela bush




Lots of evergreens and boulders

Redwood dogwood for winter interest

Mr McGregor's Garden:  Picket fence, vintage farm tools, cabbage ornamental kale,  orange, peach, yellow, and white flowers inter-planted with vegetables,  I see cosmos, zinnias, dahlias, a rabbit hole, rabbit statues and a little blue coat and rubber boots. Or this could be your vegetable garden with some flowers inter-planted.


Rose begonias


Prospector's Garden:  Pick and ax, mining cart, lots of boulders and rocks with flowers inter planted,  railroad tie borders, rock river or running fountain. Flower colors the color of gemstones. Lots of ornamental grasses.

Bishops weed




Wizzard of Oz Garden:  Red brick winding path lined with red ornamental poppies leading to your garden shed with boots of wicked witch of the east poking out, scarecrow, red and purple flowers

Anyway you get the idea. It's fun to think of the possibilities and even harder to narrow it down.  

Visit gardens for inspiration.  Some gardens like Thanksgiving Point offer landscaping classes. 

Shop the thrift stores, Deseret Industries, antique stores, and even ask a neighbor for there "junk."  I got an old bed spring and ladder off my dad's property that I thought  was a treasure and he was glad to get rid of it.

Take pictures of gardens and flower combinations you like.

Have fun with your gardens let them be an inspiration as well as a source of food.

 "It was such a pleasure to sink one's hands into the warm earth, to feel at one's fingertips the possibilities of the new season." ~Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

Writing this post has got me all excited to improve and add personality to my gardens.  

If all your plans and plants fail you can call it your, "Green Acres" garden and try again next year.  But never give up.  Here's Winston Churchill quote for those of you who feel as if gardening is a wartime effort with weeds and disease winning the battle.

"Success is not final, fail is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts."  Winston Churchill 

 Much of the inspiration for this post came from a MasterGardener Webinar by Lisa Orgler.  For more ideas and help in landscaping check out her web page.


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